It goes without saying that President Obama and the Democrats are flying high. The president registered a 60 percent approval rating in an ABC/Washington Post opinion poll out this week, his highest since he took office four years ago. Despite losing a highly-contentious election less than three months ago, Republicans have been trying to appear less extreme and intransigent overall. And at least some members of the Republican caucus who are not part of the tea party wing of the party recognize that the possibility and prospect of compromise on fiscal issues could improve the economy and resolve outstanding issues like tax reform, the debt ceiling, and entitlement reform, and this in turn can yield political dividends.
Looking ahead to the 2014 elections, Democrats appear, at this point at least, to have an advantage on fiscal issues. However, there are warning signs ahead. The economy contracted in the fourth quarter for the first time in nearly four years, putting the brakes on a slow but steady recovery. As the new Congress kicks into full gear, there are bright spots for the Republicans’ chances to gain in the Senate – the issues of government spending and too much regulation shaping up to be the centerpiece of the Republican playbook. Clearly we have heard much about the spending issue, an issue which, if packaged correctly, could provide huge substantive and political benefits to both the GOP and arguably the country.
Regulation in all aspects of life is important. From ensuring the safety of our workplace, to the cars we drive, to the food we eat and the medicines we take, we expect our government to watch out for us with sensible, practical regulations. However the government has been moving toward increased regulations in medicine lately, and this could threaten the prescriber-patient relationship. It could also drive a wedge between Obama and the 60% who approve of him. For Republicans, they need to force compromise on regulatory reform. This is a hidden issue not usually discussed but of huge importance. It is not just an issue of removing regulations and red tape but one of using levers of power and government to facilitate better outcomes in a wide range or areas.
None of this is more important than in health care. In the post-Supreme Court ruling era of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), changes to America’s health care system are happening and we must be prepared for that. Unfortunately, proposals to establish new regulations, or pathways, for certain drugs to reach doctors and their patients may involve new government restrictions on the use, prescription, or reimbursement of such drugs in ways that could affect the practice of medicine. Ostensibly, the intention is to facilitate the development of innovative medicines that address unmet medical needs and ultimately make them available to patients who depend on them. Yet the current regulatory framework in place already includes a spectrum of options for all potential scenarios. There is no need to create new and confusing regulations and restrictions on doctors when regulators already have the flexibility to speed up the development of new medicines for serious and life-threatening diseases.
President Obama has clearly stated that he wants to make sweeping changes in health care policy. If the ACA is ultimately successful, it could produce monumental success for the president during his second term, and potentially keep the White House Democratic in 2016. But too many regulations could be the ticking time bomb that harms the Democrats in the next two elections. Limitations on the practice of medicine may have serious consequences in terms of patient access to medicines for serious and life-threatening conditions. If this occurs, the voters may punish those responsible at the polls.
We live in an ever-changing world with new medicines coming on the market every month. We are making steady progress in the battle against life-threatening diseases each year. It’s critical that we not take a step backward with unnecessary and confusing regulatory changes. For Republicans and Democrats, if handled poorly, it’s an umbrella issue that could be front and center when voters go to the polls less than two years from now.